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Full text of "Girl Feeding Chickens, No. 76, the Gloomy Path, No. 125, a Lost Mind, No. 601"

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96 



National Academy of Design 



[June, 



drawings in which Mr. Farrer has 
pointed the way to others who would 
learn to paint nature. The. " Pumpkin 
Vine," 183, is an old friend, one of those 
photographed for the series of photo- 
graphs issued by the management of this 
journal. It was described in a former 
number of the New Path. The " Dan- 
delion" is a better drawing still, and 
should also be photographed, that copies 
may be sold at a low price. 

Girl Feeding Chickens, No. T6, The 
Gloomy Path, No. 125, A Lost Mind, 
No. 601 — Elihit Vedder. 

Mr. Vedder has eight pictures in this 
exhibition, every one of them of interest, 
all but one, in our judgment, better than 
his much praised picture last year, "The 
Lair of the Sea Serpent." It will be 
well for every one who is interested in 
the possibilities of American art, and 
its probable future, to look long and 
thoughtfully at each. We propose to 
consider them one by one, but of neces- 
sity in the fewest possible words, before 
speaking at all in general terms of his 
works. 

No. 76 is the first, following the or- 
der of the catalogue, and one of the best. 
Noticeable, first of all, is the singular 
realism of conception. Eealism of con- 
ception is often but another expression 
for sympathy. It is so in this case. And 
his sympathy has guided the painter 
aright, making him paint reality in a 
real way, simplicity in a simple way, 
and all without affectation or apparent 
self-consciousness. This little girl is not 
quite pretty, nor is she at all graceful in 
her attitude, according to academic laws 
of gracefulness, nor is her dress pictur- 
esque; yet is she the best little girl, save 
one, in all this exhibition. For real lit- 
tle girls are human, which painted ones 
less often are ; and this child is as near 
reality, and as human, as painted chil- 
dren are, anywhere out of ■ the work 
of Edward .Fr6re. "We say as real and 



as human — not altogether as good. Mr. 
Johnson's little girl is better, and near- 
er perfection, because equally real and 
human, and of a higher order of hu- 
manity. Mr. Furness's portrait of a 
young lady is higher and better art than 
either, because of a higher order of hu- 
manity still, and still as real, still as hu- 
man as either. But we choose sometimes 
the pathos there is in poor little bare- 
foot girls feeding chickens, not show- 
ing much intellect, only interest in the 
chickens, not affording very beautiful 
subjects, only interesting subjects that 
we stop to look at every time we ' 
pass. 

"We shall have more to say of this pic- 
ture in comparing it with others. 

Here in "The Gloomy Path"— 125— 
a monk muffled close in gown, and with 
hood drawn over his head, walks away 
from us through a dreary country 
enough, his brown gown blown about 
by the wind. "Well, we do not know 
much about monks here, and care 
for them even less. It is not saying 
much, to say; that we should know and 
care more if they often were truthfully 
represented, as Mr. Longfellow and Mr. 
Browning and Mr. Vedder have done 
once and again. 

This is only a sketch, but there is lone- 
liness in it, and degradation, and frowzy 
discomfort— modern monkery, in other 
words. If Mr. Vedder should read this, 
perhaps he will disclaim having meant 
so much, and protest that it is the ob- 
server's imagination that invests the 
picture with thought not his own. It 
may be so; but it is the province of 
sketches like this, to excite imagination 
in the observer which a more crowded 
picture would not. And if he, or any 
one, say that it is pleasing only to one 
who knew about monks before, that also 
may be so, and rightly, it is to them 
that Mr. Vedder speaks the most forci- 
bly, as did Mr. Longfellow and Mr. 
Browning. It is for these previously-in- 



1865.] 



Fortieth Annual Exhibition. 



97 



formed ones to point out to the less in- 
formed the excellence of all these por- 
traits. 

The "Fort near Cadiz, Spain"— 292 
— has been painted for the sake of the 
bright sunlit white walls and golden and 
red flag against a black and stormy sky. 
Evidently a reminiscence of fact. 

The line of coast— a difficult thing to 
draw — is well drawn. The boats, high 
up on the beach, surely not more diffi- 
cult, are very badly drawn. The artist 
should realize how much he injures his 
picture by such a fault. A word is 
needed on this matter. Here is a pic- 
ture of medium size, which will cost 
somebody, perhaps four hundred dollars, 
tor Mr. Vedder's pictures sell well. It 
contains one single idea — brightness 
against gloom.; a beautiful idea, and one 
that nature never wearies of, but still 
only one. It is extravagance to buy 
such pictures. It is extravagance to 
paint them. The same length of time 
would have sufficed to paint a picture 
with two or three ideas; the same 
money would buy it. We should say to 
the would-be buyer of a "Vedder," 
"Don't take this, it will not last six 
months; take one that you will not 
weary of— take the 'Girl and Chick- 
ens.' " Now, it would have added to 
the value of the picture if these had 
been actual portraits of Cadiz boats. 
These lay-figures on the beach are no- 
thing, not boats at all. They look mere 
pieces of painted plank. 

"The Arab Slave," No. 583, "Jane 
Jackson, formerly a Slave, Drawing 
in Oil-Color," No. 589— two life-size 
heads in circles, are both hung too 
high, and the unfortunate staining 
of the wall has brought the pine 
boards to the color of the Arab 
slave's face. But how good these two 
"heads are, and how powerful ! Jane Jack- 
son is our favorite, partly because we 
know her better than the Arab, but 
mainly because the head itself is won- 



derfully fine, full of expression and full 
of truth. 

A cedar-tree, somewhere on the sea- 
coast, very much abused by the sea- 
winds, has been partly broken down at 
last, and forced against a great rock. It 
has plenty of life, and flourishes under 
the untoward circumstances. The pic- 
ture " The Lonely Spring " — 59T — seems 
to be a portrait, and is, no doubt a faith- 
ful one of the tree, at least, whether the 
landscape beyond is so or not. 

It seems that Mr. Vedder dislikes to 
paint minute details. The life and 
struggling against difficulty of the tree 
are seized and quickly and strongly 
painted ; but the tree itself is not 
painted. It is a sort of caricature ; by 
which we mean that one quality is taken 
and alone represented, all other truths 
being suppressed. If one were to see 
the tree in question through a mist 
or in imperfect light, he might well 
see all that Mr. Vedder gives us. He 
would enjoy it, but would be glad to re- 
turn the next morning to see it by full 
daylight. Seeing it so, he would see 
delicate tracery of foliage, subtle and 
almost untraceable intermingling of 
little verdant spikes, little changing 
lights and shadows — all beautiful, all 
necessary to the whole truth of the tree, 
but none of them in this picture. Now, 
let the painter observe this; the men 
who can give detail, now, are few, the 
men who can give general effect are 
few, the men who can give both are al- 
most unknown. There are two or three 
who do it now and then. Therefore we 
praise his success in getting truth of 
general effect, and appreciate his evident 
sympathy with the tree. But this is 
not good tree painting ; and we hold it 
wrong to exhibit such inadequate work. 
This is not a study, but was painted from 
a study. Men who can paint well ought 
not to paint slightly and insufficiently. 
"We do not ask Mr." Vedder to paint land- 
scape, but we ask that he shall paint as 



98 



National Academy of Design : 



[June, 



well as he can what he paints at all. 
The same insufficient work is very ob- 
servable in other pictures, especially in 
our beloved No. 76— the " Girl Feeding 
Chickens ; " but is nowhere more in- 
jurious than in the picture before us. 

No. 601, "A Lost Mind," is a power- 
ful picture, and deservedly attracts much 
attention, but seems to be not rightly 
understood by many of those who 
look at it long and feel its power. 
Many intelligent people feel, as they feel 
when reading "Instans Tyrannus" or 
parts of "Sordello," that it is fine, but 
they hardly know why, and hardly un- 
derstand what is meant. It is a fault in 
a work of art to be too obscure; it does 
not necessarily argue want of meaning, 
but it does argue an imperfect clearness 
of conception. Concerning " Sordello " 
a wise friend once wrote — "It misses 
oneof the aims of art, which is, to be in- 
telligible to the intelligent." And with- 
out hesitation we assert it to be Mr. 
Vedder's fault that many who would 
understand do not more clearly under- 
stand what he has meant to say to 
them. 

Our own understanding of it may be 
briefly stated. The title means not that 
the woman has lost her mind, but that 
the iaind is as a person is who has lost 
the right road . The mind is gone astray 
from peace and truth, as a sinner is gone 
astray, when he or she also is said to be 
"lost"— a lost sheep which only one 
Shepherd can find. The woman's mind 
is lost to usefulness — lost to thought; 
the world seems gray and gloomy to its 
sight; it sees nothing but sterility and 
discomfort, is scarcely conscious, indeed, 
of anything but itself— walking so in 
the gloomy ways of life, stumbling over 
obstacles of its own placing, shadows of 
arid cloud going with it and shutting out 
the sun — a lost mind knows not its own 
needs and seeks not its own safety, 
hoping nothing from the world, where 
all seems as sad without as within. 



A handsome and stately woman, with 
loose and straggling locks of golden hair 
escaping in front — she wears a brown 
robe, a white long scarf passed over her 
head and knotted in front, and a heavy 
gray cloak over this. This is probably 
not the costume of any age or country, 
but devised by the painter, who wanted 
a dress at once picturesque and solemn, 
with heavy fall of drapery and gloomy 
color. The landscape is a sort of hollow, 
perhaps the sunken bed of a dry lake ; 
in the distance are steep banks of clay 
with sand drifted against them and into 
their crevices— the flat land around is 
sand, out of which appear rounded 
masses of soft volcanic rock. Dry yel- 
low grass grows all about in crevices. 
Hot mid-day sun seems to glow upon 
the more distant landscape ; but near at 
hand the brilliancy of the light is 
softened ; the foreground is not in full 
sunlight ; the shadow cast by the wo- 
man's figure has neither edge nor form. 

The landscape powerfully helps the 
one central idea of the picture — reckless 
grief. According to Mr. Vedder's stand' 
ard it is good. Every beholder feels 
sadder for it. 

If there is room in a picture for only 
one idea, this picture is very good. To 
us, believing that such a picture, paint- 
ed by so able a man,, should contain 
many harmonious ideas, it is only very 
clever. 

Chkistmas Time, No. 376 — Eastman 

Johnson". 

"We do not know if it was with a pur- 
pose that the Hanging Committee placed 
directly opposite one another two pic- 
tures so strongly contrasted as East- 
man Johnson's "Christmas-Time," and 
Kraus's ' ' Chess-Players, " No. 335. Per- 
haps it is best to think that they do 
nothing with a purpose ; we shall then" 
be able to exercise charity with regard 
to their not infrequent blunders, and to 
admire the occasional happy accidents.